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The Best Food for Dogs with IBD

The Best Food for Dogs with IBD

By Tabitha Thompson, 
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine

I once had a client who was in the running for best dog mom of the century. She knew every inch of her two dogs and did a ton of research to find the best ways to take care of them.
One of the dogs developed a finicky appetite. When my client brought him to see me, her main goal was to get him to eat more. He had normal blood tests and x-rays, but sometimes he just didn’t want to eat.

After questioning her about the dog’s symptoms, habits and preferences, it was clear he had a good reason for not eating well. His stomach hurt!
Eventually, we diagnosed him with inflammatory bowel disease. After that, we devised a special diet based on a moist, novel protein food.

Over a period of a few weeks, he became happier and more active. His appetite also came back with a vengeance once we found out he needed a diet that didn’t cause inflammation (and pain) in his guts.

What is IBD in Dogs?

IBD stands for inflammatory bowel disease. Inflammatory cells take up residence in the walls of a dog’s stomach and/or intestines, crowding out the normal cells. Without enough normal cells, digestion and absorption of nutrients suffer.

The exact cause of IBD is not known, but experts believe it’s probably caused by multiple factors. One theory holds that the body mistakenly identifies normal food and bacteria as foreign invaders.

The classic symptoms of IBD in dogs include vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, finicky or decreased appetite, and weight loss.


IBD is not easy to diagnose. Although there are blood tests that may help narrow down the possibilities, the best way to confirm a dogs IBD is with a biopsy of the affected tissue.

Since there is a spectrum of gastrointestinal diseases that can cause similar symptoms, getting the right diagnosis is the fastest way to decide on the best treatment.


Luckily, many dogs with mild IBD respond well to dietary therapy alone (Allenspach, Wieland, Grone & Gashchen, 2007).

Dogs with moderate to severe IBD often require antibiotic and anti-inflammatory treatment before they feel better.

The Best Food for Dogs with IBD

While there is no one ideal food for all cases of inflammatory bowel disease in dogs, here are some diet characteristics veterinarians recommend…

  • Minimal additives
    Since we don’t know which ingredients dogs with IBD are reacting to, it’s best to choose a food that is very simple. Additives that may cause an immune reaction should be avoided.
  • Highly digestible, low residue diets
    Some foods are more digestible than others. For most dogs, fiber and fat are more difficult to digest, especially when their GI tract is inflamed. Based on my personal clinical experience, high moisture food is easier for many dogs to digest than dry kibble, too.
  • Novel protein diet
    IBD may be an immune system reaction to food. Scientific research tells us proteins from beef, dairy, chicken and wheat are the most common foods to cause reactions in dogs (Mueller, Olivry, & Prélaud, 2016).

When a dog eats a protein he’s never had before, his immune system is not primed to react to it. Choosing foods without the common food allergens is part of a logical approach to finding a food that doesn’t aggravate inflammatory bowel disease in dogs.

Novel protein diets may include duck, rabbit, guineafowl or even more unusual meat sources like kangaroo, depending on what the dog has been exposed to in his lifetime.


Allenspach, K., Wieland, B., Gröne, A., & Gaschen, F. (2007). Chronic enteropathies in dogs: evaluation of risk factors for negative outcome. Journal of veterinary internal medicine, 21(4), 700-708.

Mueller, R. S., Olivry, T., & Prélaud, P. (2016). Critically appraised topic on adverse food reactions of companion animals (2): common food allergen sources in dogs and cats. BMC veterinary research, 12(1), 9.

Feb 19th 2019